By Ryan Richardson
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Dozens of local residents gathered Saturday at the Rader Farm on the 150th anniversary of the massacre of 15 soldiers of the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry and three white soldiers from the 2nd Kansas Volunteer Artillery Battery by guerrilla Confederate forces.
Located near the intersection of Peace Church and Fountain Roads outside of Joplin, the five acres of land where the skirmish took place was purchased by the Jasper County Commission in 2009. Since then, members of the Sherwood-Rader Farm Jasper County Civil War Park Committee have worked toward establishing a living history homestead that will recognize the role that Jasper County played during the war. Committee member Steve Weldon said that Saturday’s event, which included a walk through of the nearby field by reenactors, helped draw attention to the importance of the site and the committee’s fundraising efforts.
“We were at the edge of the frontier here and this place played a pivotal role in how events unfolded,” Weldon said. “When the soldiers came out, I wanted people to see what they saw. Eventually, we want to be able to tell the whole region’s story that way.”
The committee has set a fundraising goal of $100,000 for the project, which will include a replication of the Rader farmhouse, a primitive cabin and a split-rail fence around the property.
On May 18, 1863, 25 black soldiers of the 1st Kansas and 22 white soldiers with the 2nd Kansas arrived at Rader’s farmhouse. The black soldiers had put their weapons aside to secure supplies from the location. Seventy of Confederate guerrilla leader Thomas Livingston’s men descended upon the farm, surprising the Union soldiers. Most of the white soldiers quickly took off on horseback, leaving many of the black soldiers to a harsh fate. Reading from a first-person account from Union soldier Hugh L. Thompson, Missouri Southern State University professor Jim Lile summed up the 10-minute battle in five words during Saturday’s ceremony.
“We rode into an ambush,” Lile said as he read from the account.
Retired MSSU professor Virginia Laas also spoke Saturday on the importance of the site’s role in shaping regional history during the Civil War.
“We had to evaluate what freedom, equality and citizenship meant to our country and our commitment to the republic,” Laas said during her remarks. “What happened in our county mirrored what happened nationally. We saw armed civilians acting independently of organized government. We saw civilians in Jasper County supporting different sides. The war was in our backyard.”
Laas also spoke on the importance of the African-American soldiers, many of whom were former slaves, in fighting the war.
“It wasn’t just the end of slavery that they were fighting for, but it was their guarantee of citizenship,” Laas said. “Some 180,000 black men fought to secure their freedom, including the men that died here.”
Members of the Supply 203rd National Guard unit in Joplin placed a wreath in the field to commemorate the military sacrifice that was made. For Spc. Gregory Coopwood, the Kansas infantry’s sacrifice had extra importance.
“As an African-American soldier, their sacrifice meant a lot and it made me feel honored to be a part of today,” Coopwood said. “There are so many untold stories about what happened in the war, but a day like today helps tell that story. I want to see that story keep going.”
Thus far, money toward the Rader Farm project has been a $25,000 donation by Ed and Allison Hershewe, used to buy the tract of land, and $7,500 set aside by Jasper County for incidental expenses in the project’s development.